Friday, December 19, 2008

Santa's little helper...c'est moi!

Santa better bring me some nice presents this year, 'cuz I've been REAL GOOD! I have been baking non-stop for days, trying to get something homemade and yummy in the mail for friends and family. First off, I made some fruitcakes. Wait, wait...hear me out before you protest! Inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, I macerated dried blueberries, cherries, apricots, golden raisins, and candied ginger in orange juice, Grand Marnier, and dark rum. Then I folded the plumped and fragrant fruits into a pound cake batter that was lightly spiced with mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and a hint of cloves. YUM! It just smelled like Christmas--a fruitcake that even professed fruitcake haters would love! I'm afraid that I didn't take any pictures, because they were gifts, so I wasn't going to cut into them. And on the outside, the loaves just looked sort of brown and bumpy. But there's a good picture on Anapestic's blog. I have faith that mine looked like that on the inside. ;-)

I also devised a neat trick for mailing them safely. I looked for a decorative tin, but couldn't find one long enough, and special craft boxes were just too spendy. So I ended up buying plastic shoeboxes for just $1.20 each from Big Lots, packed the frozen and double-wrapped fruitcake in the box along with a small, bubble-wrapped jar of my homemade maple apple butter, filling any gaps with packing peanuts. Then I gift-wrapped the whole thing and secured it with a ton of packing tape before labelling it and dropping it at the local post office. Clever, eh? It looked festive, and it was lightweight (to save on shipping), but very sturdy and even reusable, thus, environmentally-friendly to boot! On a slight tangent, do you think the post office staff sees a lot of crazy-looking bakers with wild, unkempt hair, flour all over their fronts, and a smear of bittersweet chocolate on their cheeks running in five minutes before they close? I suspect it's not all that uncommon at this time of year...just saying.

Anapestic's Perfect Fruitcake
(Source: adapted from
Makes two large loaves

about 2 cups mixed dried fruit (I used 1/2 cup blueberries, 1/2 cup cherries, 1/2 cup apricots, 1/2 cup golden raisins, and 1/4 cup candied ginger)
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 cups pecans
3/4 lb. butter, at room temperature
1 lb. granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 lb. all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cloves

The day before you're going to bake the fruitcake, combine the dried fruits and the orange juice, Grand Marnier and rum. Cover and leave to macerate. (You can speed up the process by heating up the liquids first. The fruit will completely reconstitute in an hour or two.)

Sometime before you're going to bake the fruitcake, toast the pecans for about 12 minutes at 300 degrees. Be careful not to burn them. (I toasted mine in a dry frying pan for a few minutes instead.)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Prepare two large loaf pans (I sprayed glass loaf pans with flour-added cooking spray, cut out parchment for the bottoms of the pans, and then sprayed the paper, too). Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Mix well and reserve.

In your mixer, cream the butter thoroughly. Gradually add the sugar to the butter, and let them continue to mix for several minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Scrape the bowl down if necessary. Beat in the vanilla extract.

At low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients. When thoroughly combined, scrape the bowl down again, if necessary. At low speed, add the pecans. Add the fruit and rum mixture and fold in by hand until well blended.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for about 85 to 95 minutes, or until the cake springs back slightly when pressed. Remove from oven and let cool in the pans for half an hour. Remove from pans and let rest on cooling rack until thoroughly cooled.

You can slice and serve the cake as soon as it's cool. You can wrap it in plastic and slice it a bit at a time. You can also wrap it in cloth, apply your spirit of choice, and then wrap it airtight for as long as you think wise. Add more spirits occasionally.

Then some other lucky people got lovely tins full of what the King Arthur bakers called Chocolate-Chip Walnut Mandelbrot, which is like Jewish biscotti. But as "mandel" means almond, and these have walnuts in them, I think they should be more properly called WALNUSSBROT. King Arthur originally posted the recipe back in September for Rosh Hashanah. However, an orthodox Jewish man wrote in to their Baker's Banter blog to say that they would never eat walnuts for Rosh Hashanah because the numerical value of the Hebrew word for walnut is the same as the word for sin, or something rabbinical like that. But as this recipe calls for oil rather than butter and includes all those symbolically-sinful walnuts, it seems a perfect choice for Hanukkah! Plus, they are sturdy, travel well, and stay fresh for a long time (having been purposefully dried out somewhat by being twice-baked). So they are also ideal for packing up and sending out as Hanukkah--or Christmas--gifts.

Chocolate Chip Walnussbrot
King Arthur Flour)

3 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
coarse white sparkling sugar, optional

1) Beat together the eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla, and salt at medium-high speed until thickened and light-colored, about 5 minutes.
2) Beat in the flour and baking powder.
3) Mix in the chips and nuts. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours, or overnight.
4) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment or Silpats) two baking sheets.
5) Divide the dough into four even pieces, about 13 ounces each if you have a scale.
6) Working with one piece at a time, place the dough on the prepared baking sheet, shaping it into an 8" x 2" log. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, leaving at least 2" between them; you'll put 2 logs on each baking sheet.
7) Sprinkle the logs heavily with coarse white sugar, if desired. (I egg-washed the logs first using one egg and a couple of teaspoons of water.)
8) Bake the logs for about 28 to 30 minutes, until they're set and beginning to brown and the edges and sides, but not brown all over. Remove them from the oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
9) Spritz the logs lightly with water; this will make them easier to cut. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes.
10) Cut each log into 1/2" to 3/4" slices. Cutting them on the diagonal will make the mandelbrot longer; cutting them crosswise will yield shorter cookies.
11) Place the pieces on edge, quite close together, on the baking sheets, and return them to the oven.
12) Bake for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, until a cookie feels baked through when you pinch it between your fingers. You'll also notice some browning around the edges, though the cookie shouldn't be browning all over. The point is simply to bake them all the way through.
13) Remove from the oven, and cool the walnussbrot right on the baking sheets.

Then I finally managed to deliver the last tins of maple cinnamon rolls to my beloved next-door neighbor and the dairy farmer who lets me garden and keep my chickens on his land. But let me tell you what an ordeal that was! We've had a good bit of snow over the past few days, and the path up to the barn had not been plowed. I was going to drive up there, but I was afraid I'd get stuck. So I decided, in a foolish moment of holiday magnanimity, to walk up to the barn and then over to neighbor Ken's place. And actually, I did pretty first. The snow was up to my calves in places, but I tried to walk carefully in the big tracks of the milk tankers. I managed to deliver a pan of rolls to the barn and dropped the other off on Ken's porch before heading back to my house, surprisingly without incident. I was almost home-free, but coming around the corner of the house, I hit a thick patch of ice underneath the accumulation of soft snow, and before I realized it, I went SPLAT on the ground! Nothing was really hurt except my pride, particularly when I discovered that I couldn't get enough traction on the ice to get back on my feet. So I lay there, helpless, floundering in a snowdrift alongside Route 22, thinking that I'd just have to wait for some Good Samaritan motorist or neighbor to stop and help me up. My second thought was I would die of embarrassment t'were that to happen, so I quickly concocted a cover story wherein I was making snow angels right next to a major thoroughfare, like you do. This horrifying possibility somehow gave me the will to crawl on my knees off of the ice floe, then I could stand and finally flee into the house before I caused more of a scene. I was wet and cold, and my right knee and left wrist hurt, but otherwise, I wasn't much worse for wear. Nevertheless, shouldn't suffering that indignity to deliver homemade gifts be enough to warrant Santa Claus bringing me Rock Band for Christmas? I sure think so! Nick, are ya getting this?


Anonymous said...

The fruit cake sounds yummy. How many loaf pans does it require?

Joy Bugaloo said...

OOPS! Sorry. It makes two large loaf pans. I fixd the omission in my post.

Happy fruit-caking! --Gina